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18 Years Ago: Yo La Tengo’s ‘Electr-O-Pura’ Album Released

Yo La Tengo Electr-O-Pura
Matador Records

The seventh album by Hoboken-based indie-rock heroes Yo La Tengo falls in the middle of their excellent mid-‘90s trilogy. Sandwiched between 1993’s ‘Painful’ and 1997’s ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One,’ 1995’s ‘Electr-O-Pura’ plays like the bridge between the hazy alt-rock noise of Yo La Tengo’s formative years and the shorter, snappier pop grooves they began to explore as the decade wound down. With a focus on songs, ‘Electr-O-Pura’ stands as one of the most accessible albums by the not-always-so-accessible trio.

It all starts with ‘Decora,’ a three-and-a-half-minute buzz of feedback, distortion and ghostly vocals wrapped in a rhythm that’s set for launch. And then it hits you: Strip away the feedback, distortion and ghostly vocals, and you’re left with a pretty tight pop song. And that’s how ‘Electr-O-Pura’ works, feeling around for some new grooves while keeping one eye toward the exit, just in case it needs to bolt for familiar ground.

And for the next hour, Yo La Tengo take one of their headiest and most melodic journeys, weaving in and out of musical territories they may or may not be totally comfortable with. From the shimmering retro ‘60s pop of ‘Tom Courtenay’ to the spare and haunting ‘Paul Is Dead’ to the nine-minute closer ‘Blue Line Swinger,’ ‘Electr-O-Pura’ (which celebrates its 18th anniversary today) plays on the familiar while expanding the band’s musical canvas. It’s a decisive album and one of the best of their long career.

But like all Yo La Tengo albums at the time, ‘Electr-O-Pura’ didn’t chart. The terrific follow-up LP didn’t either. (The band wouldn’t crack the ‘Billboard’ album chart until 2000’s ‘And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out’ made it to No. 138.) The only single released from the record, ‘Tom Courtenay,’ didn’t make too much mainstream noise either, although more adventurous college radio stations picked up on it and a couple of the other songs. Still, ‘Electr-O-Pura’ remains an essential part of ‘90s indie rock and a turning point for one of its greatest bands.

Watch Yo La Tengo’s Video for ‘Tom Courtenay’

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